SUNRISE — As it turns out, Pavel Kubina isn't such a tough guy after all, at least when he is around his daughter, Tereza.
How could it be otherwise, the big Lightning defenseman asked, when Tereza, who turns 4 in early November, flashes a smile that completely melts him.
"I'm a softie," Kubina said.
"Then I'd better talk to his wife," coach Guy Boucher said, "get the grit back."
Boucher was joking, of course.
"He's a real good person off the ice, but on the ice, he brings a lot of emotion," Boucher said. "I'm not worried about his emotional state during games."
Especially tonight, when Tampa Bay faces the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum, Kubina's first game at home in a Lightning uniform since April 2006.
It is, Kubina said, a happy homecoming.
"Home is always special," he said Friday before Tampa Bay faced the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center. "When I put that uniform on, I get a little nervous and excited to play for this team again. It's an honor for me to wear this jersey."
An argument can be made Kubina, 33, is one of the Lightning's greatest draft choices. Selected 179th overall (seventh round) in 1996 by then-general manager Phil Esposito, he played eight seasons, was an integral part of the team's 2004 Stanley Cup team and was a 2004 All-Star.
Kubina still leads all Lightning defensemen with 531 games, 32 power-play goals and 663 penalty minutes. But he left after the 2005-06 season, when Tampa Bay could not match the Maple Leafs' offer of a four-year, $20 million free agent contract.
After playing three seasons in Toronto and one in Atlanta, the three-time Czech Republic Olympian, who kept his Treasure Island home, signed in July with the Lightning for two years, $7.7 million.
"They were pretty happy in Treasure Island because they're going to get some tickets for hockey games," Kubina said.
The Lightning is happy, too, as Kubina provides a potent shot and playmaking ability on the power play and, at 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, is a much-needed big, physical body in front of the net.
"When he gets in the way, there's no moving him," said teammate Adam Hall, who with the Predators and Penguins faced Kubina plenty. "Look at the size of him. Try to move a guy like that. But still, for a guy that size to be able to make plays and have an offensive instinct as well, it's a great combination."
Boucher touted the intangibles.
"His enthusiasm," he said. "That brings a lot of life to the team. Two, he won a Stanley Cup here.
"That has an aura in itself."
That ends when Kubina gets back home to Tereza and wife Andrea and Kubina is just dad.
"It's unbelievable to see how they grow and take their first step and start speaking, and it's so much fun to be around her," Kubina said of his daughter.
"When I see her every morning, I see her smile. It's special for me. That's the best thing that ever happened to me."
Even better than returning to the Lightning.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.